Official heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Official coats of arms

THE arms of the various South African states and territories reflect the constitutional and political changes that have taken place since the middle of the nineteenth century.

Pre-Union colonies and republics

Between 1652 and 1910, South Africa was a political patchwork of more than a dozen colonies and republics. They eventually crystallised into four territories, which united in 1910 to form a single Union of South Africa.

Arms of the Boer republics Boer republics : OFS - SA Republic (1) - SA Republic (2) - Stellaland - Nieuwe Republiek.

Boer republics — Four of the many Boer republics that were formed in the 19th century had official arms.

The two dominant republics were the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, both established in the 1850s. They ceased to exist in 1902, and became British colonies ('Orange River Colony' and 'Transvaal' respectively).

The Orange Free State arms (1857), which were designed in the Netherlands, featured the republic's Great Seal and the bugle-horn badge of the Dutch royal family (House of Orange).

Those of the SA Republic displayed a lion, an armed Boer, an anchor, and a 'kakebeenwa' ox-wagon. The first version (1866) was unheraldic, and was replaced by an heraldically better rendition in 1869.

Two smaller states, Stellaland and the Nieuwe Republiek, which existed for a few years in the 1880s, also assumed arms.

Stellaland's arms (c1883) depicted a korhaan bird, a star, the scales of justice, and two fish skewered on a sword. These symbols represented the origins of the state in a war between the Koranna (korhaan) and the Batlaping (fish). The arms were later adopted by the Vryburg (now 'Naledi') municipality, which still uses them.

The Nieuwe Republiek arms (1886) displayed an ox-wagon, a tent, a cow, a ship, a plough, and an axe stuck into a treestump, and a Zulu shield. This was probably the first time that a Zulu shield had appeared in heraldry. The arms were later adopted by the Vryheid municipality.

Arms of the British colonies British colonies : Cape Colony - Natal - Orange River Colony.

British colonies — The arms of the United Kingdom were the official arms of the British colonies, but three of them also had their own arms, granted by the British monarch.

The Cape Colony arms (1875) combined the arms of Jan van Riebeeck with the Dutch / British lion and the French fleurs de lis.

The Orange River Colony arms (1904) featured a springbok and an imperial crown. Natal's arms (1907) depicted the two galloping wildebeest that had been the colony's official symbol since the 1840s.

The Transvaal colony, formerly the SA Republic, did not have official arms.

South Africa

From 1910 to 1961, South Africa was a dominion (later 'realm') in the British Empire / Commonwealth. It has been a republic since 1961. The republic was reconstituted in 1994.

South african arms 1910 South Africa

1910-94 — In 1910, King George V granted the Union of South Africa an official coat of arms, which consisted of quarters representing the four provinces, with a wavy line for the Orange River.

While the Cape and Natal symbols (Hope and wildebeest respectively) were not new, those of the others were. The OFS's 'tree of liberty' was now an orange tree, and the Transvaal's wagon was the half-tented transport wagon from the former colonial seal rather than the 1830s-vintage 'kakebeenwa' that had appeared on the old SAR arms.

Unwanted provincial arms Unwanted provincial arms : Cape - Natal - OFS - Transvaal.

The former colonies became provinces of the Union in 1910. Although the provincial administrations were not the legal succesors of the colonial governments, the Cape, Natal, and OFS provincial administrations nevertheless took over the colonial coats of arms as provincial arms. The Transvaal remained without arms.

Although the king also granted provincial arms, consisting of the individual quarters of the national arms, in 1911, the government allowed the provinces to continue using their existing arms. When the provinces were later told about the granted arms, they rejected them.

The OFS dropped the Orange River Colony arms in 1925, went without arms for twelve years, and then adopted the old OFS republican arms in 1937. The Transvaal adopted a slightly modified version of the old SA Republic arms in 1951.

In 1954, the Union government got rid of the unwanted arms by arranging for Queen Elizabeth II to cancel the 1911 grant, and the de facto arms were recorded at the College of Arms in 1955.

Arms of South African provinces (1) 'New SA' : South Africa - E Cape - Free State - Gauteng - KwaZulu-Natal - Limpopo.

Arms of South African provinces (2) Mpumalanga - N Cape - North West - W Cape.

1994-date — The Republic was reconstituted in 1994, and reorganised into nine provinces. The 1910 arms were retained as a temporary measure after the country was reconstituted in 1994, even though the four provinces which they represented no longer existed.

Coats of arms were designed for the new provinces between 1996 and 2004. An entirely new national coat of arms, introduced in 2000, emphasises the country's African heritage, rather than the colonial past. The shield design is derived from a San ('Bushman') rock painting, and red ochre is the principal colour.

Trees and flowers are the principal charges in six of the provincial arms : an aloe for the Eastern Cape (BoH 1996) ; an Orange River lily for the Free State (BoH 1999) ; a strelitzia for KwaZulu-Natal (BoH 2004) ; a baobab tree for Limpopo (BoH 1997) ; a Barberton daisy for Mpumalanga (BoH 1996) ; and a thorn tree for Northern Cape (BoH 1997).

Gauteng's arms (BoH 1996) allude to its gold-mining industry. The North West arms (BoH 1997) feature a traditional calabash (gourd). Those of the Western Cape (BoH 1998) depict the traditional anchor of Hope, grapes, and a Khoi clay pot.

South West Africa and homelands

South Africa's former dependencies – South West Africa and the self-governing Black 'homelands' – had their own official arms. All are now obsolete.

The former German protectorate of South West Africa was administered by South Africa from 1915 to 1990. Its arms, designed by Dr Coenraad Beyers and assumed in 1963, alluded to agriculture (a ram's head and a bul's head), diamond mining, the German colonial period (Fort Namutoni and the eagle), and early Portuguese explorers (the padrao).

Arms of South West Africa and the TBVC states SW Africa - Transkei - Bophuthatswana - Ciskei - Venda.

The ten 'homelands' were established between 1963 and 1986, and were reincorporated into the Republic in 1994.

Most of the homelands' arms were designed by a team from the Department of Bantu Administration & Development, under Wilhelm Wijenberg. The others were designed by the Bureau of Heraldry. The homeland arms firmly established African shields and traditional symbols, in South African heraldry.

The Transkei arms (BoH 1970), for instance, include a bull's head, and introduced ochre as a colour into South African heraldry. The Bophuthatswana arms (BoH 1972), depicted on a Tswana shield, allude to mining and agriculture. Ciskei's arms (BoH 1972), on a Xhosa shield, depicted a bull's head and a milkwood tree. Venda's second arms (BoH 1979) depicted an elephant's head. It's first arms (BoH 1972) depicted a whole elephant.

Government departments

Arms of some government departments Departments : House of Assembly - Justice - State Expenditure - Transport - Water Affairs - Secret Service.

From 1971 until about 2004, most government departments had their own coats of arms, which they used instead of the national arms. Nowadays they are required to use the national arms alone.

Each coat of arms comprised shield, crest, and motto. Although the arms were individual, the crests were all differenced versions of the lion crest from the national arms.

The old national colours (orange, white and blue) were used in some arms, e.g. those of the House of Assembly Administration (BoH 1987) and the Department of Transport (BoH 1978).

The Department of Justice arms (BoH 1971) and those of the Department of Water Affairs (BoH 1985) allude to their functions.

The Department of State Expenditure arms (BoH 1992) feature an accountant's quill pen, while those of the SA Secret Service (BoH 1996) include a compass rose, which a number of countries use as an intelligence symbol.

Legal protection

Official arms and symbols belong to the various governments and departments. Protection against unauthorised use is fairly recent.

The unauthorised use of the national arms in trademarks, designs, and merchandise marks has been prohibited by several trademark laws passed since 1916.

Since 1963, national and provincial arms have been protected under the Heraldry Act. Anyone who sells, barters, or uses any of them for gain or trade can be prosecuted and, if convicted, fined. Alternatively the administration concerned can sue for an interdict and / or damages. This also applied to government department arms, to the arms of the homelands, and to other registered official emblems.

Since 1982, it has also been an offence to display contempt for the national arms or to hold them up to ridicule. Offenders can be fined and / or imprisoned. Whether this is still enforceable in the light of the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of opinion and expression, is unclear.

Full blazons of the 1910 national arms (but not the 2000 arms), the arms of the old and new provinces, and some of the homelands, are available on the Bureau of Heraldry Database on the National Archives website.

References :
  • Basson, J.A.; 'SA Argiefwese Vier Eeufees' in Lantern (Dec 1976).
  • Beyers, C.; 'Die Wapen van die SA Republiek ' in Archives Year Book (1950 Vol I).
  • Bodel, J.D.; 'Theme and Variations, or the SA Coat of Arms and the Provincial Arms of 1911' in Archives News (Jul 1972), 'Trek or Transport : A Rider' in Archives News (Jun 1990).
  • Bornman, H.; Vryburg 1882-1982 (1982).
  • Brownell, F.G.; 'Trek or Transport?' in Archives News (Mar 1990), 'The Evolution of the Coats of Arms and Flags of SWA and Namibia' in Archives News (May - Dec 1990), National and Provincial Symbols (1993).
  • Bureau of Heraldry Database.
  • Government Communication & Information Service; Coat of Arms Corporate Identity Guidelines (2004).
  • Pama, C.; Simbole van die Unie (1960), Lions and Virgins (1965).

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